Mwaah Ha Ha Haa…
What was that, you ask? Not to worry, it’s just a peat monster looking to grab the back of your throat and assault your tastebuds. Well, actually, it’s just Smokehead Islay Single Malt, a no age statement Islay whisky that’s been branded to appeal to the bad ass in us all… although it may or may not still do some damage to your tastebuds!
Now, I appreciate tattoos and rock & roll as much as the next guy but I must admit that, when a buddy brought this over for a barbecue, I was a little bit skeptical – it’s just such a massive departure from typical Scotch marketing! Funky branding, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t a good drop inside the bottle and it was a big hit with all the boys (a couple of whom are not regular whisky drinkers) so, needless to say, I’ve felt the need to give Smokehead a proper review.
This whiskey is brought to us by Ian Macleod distillers. There is much mystery surrounding Smokehead and plenty of debate about the distillery from which this single malt originates. I have read that it’s a young Ardbeg, some say it’s a baby Lagavulin. I guess if they were to tell you they’d have to… never mind, it’s just that damned devilish skull causing these dark thoughts!
Smokehead costs about $60 in my neck of the woods. It’s bottled at 43% abv.
To the Eye
Smokehead is a very pale, straw-coloured dram. The usual tilt of my glencairn produced medium legs that rapidly slip back down the sides of the glass.
In the Nose
A lot of the typical Islay elements are there. Iodine, check. Peat, you bet. Seaweed… perhaps. Smoke… sure – but frankly I was expecting a stronger blast of soot in a dram named Smokehead. There is also some sweet honey along with hints of vanilla and cinnamon. This whisky has a very pleasant nose – it’s certainly a strength!
On the Tongue
No question that we have an Islay here and on the palate is where the smoke REALLY asserts itself. Charcoal is definitely at the forefront and its accompanied by a healthy dose of peat, offset a little bit by a fruity, pithy sweetness. Cigar ash, espresso, and a hint of dark chocolate also merge with a salty, seaweedy character. The finish is long and rather bitter, with more charcoal and burnt sugar… Perhaps a hint of sherry lingers as well.
Smokehead is an authentic Islay malt that has most of the qualities one expects from the island. What I did not find in this dram, however, was the wonderful balance usually associated with Islay malts. But I suppose that’s to be expected. After all, whichever distillery Smokehead comes from, they would have kept the casks for themselves if they had been among their best, wouldn’t they?
It’s not that Smokehead is a horrible drop but, in my opinion, there’s just a bit too much tinder box and ash tray in this dram that’s knocking the experience out of balance. Unfortunately, the cool factor of the canister doesn’t make up for the slight lack of quality inside the bottle. Thank you very much but, when my palate wants to visit Islay, I’ll go for the less expensive Laphroaig Quarter Cask or the similarly priced Ardbeg 10 every time!